Improving the health of asthmatics and allergic people

Our main research topics are aimed to improve the health of allergic people by increasing their knowledge of these disorders and their interaction with the living environment of sufficient biodiversity. Some of the latest studies are described below.

Birch pollen honey for birch pollen allergy?

Only a few randomized controlled trials have been carried out to evaluate various complementary treatments for allergic disorders. This study assessed the effects of the preseasonal use of birch pollen honey (BPH; birch pollen added to honey) or regular honey (RH) on symptoms and medication during birch pollen season. Forty-four patients (59% female, mean age 33 years) with physician diagnosed birch pollen allergy consumed either BPH or RH daily in incremental amounts from November 2008 to March 2009. Seventeen patients (53% female, mean age 36 years) on their usual allergy medication served as the control group. From April to May, patients recorded daily rhinoconjunctival and other symptoms and their use of medication. Fifty patients completed the study. During birch pollen season in 2009, BPH patients reported a 60% lower total symptom score (p < 0.01), twice as many asymptomatic days (p < 0.01), and 70% fewer days with severe symptoms (p < 0.001), and they used 50% less antihistamines (p < 0.001) compared to the control group. The differences between the BPH and RH groups were not significant. However, the BPH patients used less antihistamines than did the RH patients (p < 0.05). Patients who preseasonally used BPH had significantly better control of their symptoms than did those on conventional medication only, and they had marginally better control compared to those on RH. The results should be regarded as preliminary, but they indicate that BPH could serve as a complementary therapy for birch pollen allergy.

Impacts of mugwort and sagewort pollen

Approximately 100,000 people in Finland are allergic to mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) pollen. The species is most common in cultural environments, so it is easy to become predisposed to its pollen. Yet there is very little knowledge about ways to control and prevent these effects, although mugwort is an only important allergenic plant in Finland which distribution and abundance can be controlled with various treatments.

Between 2006 and 2007 we studied the mugwort and its close relative sagewort (Artemisia campestris) in densely populated areas in Imatra, SE Finland. The focus was on their distribution, the timing in flowering periods and the effects of cutting and rooting-up shoots. The pollen concentrations were measured at different times of the day, different heights and distances from the plant populations. Institute also made an enquiry to the local allergic people about the symptoms and the use of medication. It seems that sagewort may prolong the symptoms of allergic people, at least in Salpausselkä ridge, where sagewort is a common species. Main results were presented in the Aerobiology Congress in Turku, August 2008.

Allergenic pollen in indoor air

The pollen research SISSI is to be carried out between 2008 and 2009. Its main goal is to find out how pollen particles transfer from outside to inside, at what levels this happens and how the indoor exposure can be reduced. According to the first results, alder and birch pollen is carried inside in large quantities when only small windows are open.

Salt chamber treatment in asthma and atopy

Complementary and alternative medicine is widely used in asthma and allergies. However, data on the efficacy of these treatments are usually lacking. Between 2003 and 2007, we studied the effects of salt room treatment on asthma and allergic dermatitis. In addition, mineral water baths were used in treatment of allergis dermatitis. So far results have been published only on asthma.

A total of 728 volunteered on the study, but only 153 were succesfully treated. All treatments were given in a salt room of Lappeenranta Spa. During the active treatment mean salt concentrations in indoor air were between 5 and 10 mg/m3, whereas placebo treatment had the mean salt concentration of 0,3 mg/m3. Measurement of conditions were carried out by the Lappeenranta Regional Institute of Occupational Health, a local unit of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

In the first study, the effect of salt chamber treatment was evaluated as an add-on therapy to low to moderate inhaled steroid in asthma patients with bronchial hyperresponsiveness
(BHR). A parallel group, double blind, randomised placebo controlled trial was conducted. After a 2 week baseline period, patients were randomised to 2 week active salt room treatment or placebo. Treatment, lasting 40 minutes, was given once a day and 5 times a week. Patients continued their original asthma medication throughout the study and salt room treatment acted as an add-on therapy. If there was a need for increasing the steroid dose because of worsening of asthma the patient was excluded from the study.

The main outcome parameter was BHR. Patients were submitted to a histamine inhalation challenge three times: at the baseline, at the end of the two week treatment and two months after the treatment. After two week treatment the median PD15FEV1 increased significantly in the active group but not in the placebo group compared to baseline. In nine patients (56%) in the active group and in two patients (17%) in the placebo group BHR decreased at least one doubling dose. Six patients (38%) in the active group and none in the placebo group became nonresponsive to histamine. The duration of the effects on BHR and asthma control cannot be reliably estimated as the sample size became too small during the two month follow-up.

This was the first controlled trial to study the effect of salt room treatment on BHR. Two week salt room treatment reduced BHR as an add-on therapy on low to moderate dose of inhaled steroids. It also had a positive effect on asthma control measured by reduction of nocturnal awakenings. It was believed that the subjective benefit that patients get from salt room treatment is connected to the reduction of BHR. The possible treatment effect of salt room is, however, unclear. No side-effects were observed but salt room treatment is neither simple or cost free. The optimum duration or interval of treatments are not known. Health economic aspects should be evaluated, too. In future studies, the cost benefit should be compared with other treatment modalities including improving of existing drug treatment.

Symptoms from butterflies and moths?

A joint project with Allergy and Skin Hospital (HUS), the Finnish Museum of Natural History and the Lepidopterological Society of Finland evaluated the allergic disorders and symptoms among the members of Lepidopterological society exposed to Lepidoptera material. Almost 550 people (52% of the members) answered to the survey. It appeared that almost 50 % of the people had various symptoms while exposing to the material.